House Adjourns – Twelve Working days in Three Months

Paid for NothingThe United States House of Representatives adjourned on Friday after putting in twelve hard days of work during the quarter compromising August – October. This seems unusually low but let’s take a critical look at the situation before we condemn them to the depth of my ridicule.

This range of time is the election period for the House whose members all face campaigns. It is traditionally the shortest working frame of the year because of this. The representatives plan to spend 109 days this year at work. This is three days less than the average amount spent since 1990. Republicans defend this record saying that Democratic controlled houses worked relatively similar amounts of time in election years. As my mother would say, if all the kids jumped off a cliff ….

The reality is that in election years our representatives usually work a few more days than they did this year but it’s not completely out of line with recent historical reality. Back in the days before air conditioning they often took most of the hot summer months off.

I think a better judge of a how much work was done is how much legislation passed and particularly if important legislation was left on the table. This Congress is a loser in both regards. Both sides blame each other for the stalemate because all their “good” ideas are not voted on by their counterparts.

I’ll tell you what really happened. The Senate has a Democrat majority and the House has a Republican majority. Both pass legislation which they know their counterparts will fail to pass. Stalemate.

It is difficult to ignore the clearly stated mission of Republicans that they consider their most important goal to be defeating President Obama in 2012. With a goal like that it becomes difficult to believe the lip-service they give to trying to strengthen the economy. This is particularly true looking at the abysmal record in passing legislation the last two years.

The House of Representatives has had time to vote on legislation designed to defeat Obama including health care repeal over thirty times. Vice Presidential Candidate Congressman Paul Ryan rushed back recently to vote for a resolution on waiving work requirements for welfare recipients. It’s an interesting situation on its own as the waiver was requested largely by state governors, many of them Republican, and authorized by Obama.

My point isn’t about the legislation, it’s about how much time was spent on issues that catch the eye of voters and how little time was spent on issues that are important to the well-being of the United States.

This is the problem, and it is not simply a Republican problem. The attitude of our Representatives is that getting elected is more important than legislating. That obstructing their foe is more important than passing useful legislation. We live in a world of non-stop campaigning that carries on far past the election and to the actual legislative process. It has corrupted everything and everyone.

Here’s the important lesson to take from all of this. Only you can change it. If you continue to vote for Democrats or Republicans you will continue to get legislators who care only for getting elected. If we start voting for Independents, Libertarians, Constitutionalist, Green party, None of the Above, or whatever, things might change. Not before.

Why would the House of Representatives risk taking on the huge fiscal problems the United States faces if it will cost them votes? Why look at bills designed to fix the farm situation? Why do anything? If people don’t care, then representatives don’t care. They can spout platitudes, attack their counterparts on the other side, lie and lie and lie, then eat a fancy dinner at the lobbyists expense and laugh at the electorate. If they lose they get a fancy job as a lobbyist, if they win they stay on the gravy train. The only losers are us.

And we keep voting to lose.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water

Pay Congress Minimum Wage – Good Idea?

Congress Minimum WageOne of my prolific Facebook posting friends recently posted a photo declaring that US Congress members should be paid at minimum wage. My first thought was it was a rather idealistic but silly idea but then I decided, what the heck, I’ll take a rational, Randian Objectivist look at it.

My first goal was to find the actual savings in real dollars. There isn’t an exact savings because the number of hours in a year fluctuates depending on how many weekend days there are and leap years but the formula looks basically like this:

Current Pay: (530 * 174,000) + (4 * 193,4000) + (1 * 223,000) = $93.2 million.

The breakdown is 432 House Members and 98 Senators at regular pay, Majority and Minority leaders at 193,400 and Speaker of House at 223,000.

Minimum Wage Pay: ($7.25 * 2088 * 535) = $8.0 million.

The Breakdown is all 535 paid for 2088 hours of a work in a fairly average year at the federal minimum wage. States have different minimum but I went with federal.

Savings: 93.2 – 8 = $85.2 million.

As a percentage of the 2011 budget this is (85.2 million / 3.7 trillion) = .0023%

So, the actual savings, negligible, although I’m not one to completely discount $85 million even if it is .0023% of a larger total. It’s still $85 million!

Now, as to the practical aspects of the idea. First the perceived cons:

  1. Only wealthy people could run for Congress as living on that salary would be extremely difficult.
  2. It would open up Congress members to bribery as they needed the money.
  3. It isn’t any real savings to the federal budget.

The perceived benefits:

  1. Saves $85.2 million in real dollars.
  2. Would attract only those who wanted to serve rather than those in it for the money

The cons seem to outweigh the pros at first glance but I’m not so sure. No one can run for Congress without financial backing anymore and the perks of being a Congress member, in the form of benefits given by lobbyist, far outweigh their simple salary remuneration. Congress members are already are bribed by lobbyist in the way of campaign contributions so I don’t think lowering the salary stops who can run or their susceptibility to bribes in any appreciable fashion.

The Supreme Court has ruled that anyone can anonymously give any amount to a campaign. Congress members will, until that decision changes, be completely at the whim of special interests in order to get elected. Once elected they might go against their financial backers but eventually such strong-willed individuals would be weeded out of the electoral process because they would get no financial backing the next election. Only those willing to do the bidding of the highest bidder would get elected.

The illusion of financial independence is simply that, an illusion. Our Congress Members are bought and owned by those who pay the campaign bills.

Having looked at it from this perspective I’d have to say, yeah, pay them minimum wage and save a small fraction of the federal budget but in examining it I realized something very interesting although off-topic.

I have an idea!!

The original the House of Representatives was to have one representative for every 30,000 citizens (Native Americans didn’t count and only 3 out of every 5 slaves counted). This has gone up with the increased population so that now we have one representative for every 700,000 citizens. If we went back to the original proportions we would have a Congress of about 10,000 members (300 million total citizens / 30,000).

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, we do have 10,100 representatives (100 senators added). At minimum wage that is about $153 million in salary or an increase in $60 million from current expenses but …. they work from home! No staff. Each one represents a much smaller district and has less influence, huge decrease in the cost to get elected, and less individual power so that lobbyist must spread their money very differently. It might even be impossible for a lobbyist to bribe enough Congressmen to get legislation passed.

There would have to be some serious reorganization in regards to committees but with the speed of computers I don’t see this as impossible. Voting is easily done with computers. It makes it much harder to play the You Scratch My Back game. It makes representatives much more accountable to their districts.

It does leave the Senate as a beacon for bribery and misconduct but with their six-year election cycle they’ve always been a bit more independent.

I think it might actually work to remove corruption from the cycle and I’m convinced that the reduction in staffing, housing, travel, and the rest would end up saving more than $85 million!

Am I crazy? Could this work? Tell me in the comments.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire